Thursday, 28 June 2012

Rosy Crochet Cushion

My rosy crochet cushion made to replace the previous, worn-out, ancient, patchwork cover is finished! 
I am so happy with her in all her rosy petal stripes!
Rosy cushion close-up!
Three-dimensional rosy petal-fest!
And although the pattern looks complicated, Attic 24 Lucy's instructions here are so clear that, as long as you keep count carefully, it's actually quite straightforward. Of course there were occasions when I didn't keep count quite so carefully and a certain amount of frogging had to be done. Especially as the rows got larger, frogging an entire row became increasingly exasperating. My cushion is a generous 45cm in diameter which meant that the outer rows were a whopping 195 stitches each. Fine if everything was on track but not so good if rectifying a miscount meant undoing a whole row. So on the outer rows I ended up marking every fifty completed stitches with stitch markers and checking as I went so that if anything went wrong I only had to undo the last fifty instead of nearly two hundred stitches. If you are arithmetically erratic, or, as in my case more like, arithmetically hopeless, I recommend this as a way of circumnavigating the counting-accurately-as-you-go hurdle on long rows of this kind where ending the row with the correct number of stitches does actually matter rather a lot!

Rosy's right side
Rosy's wrong side
I used a mixture of yarn, mostly Sublime Baby Cashmere Merino Silk left over from making my "Summer Has Come From The Sunny Land" blanket* but also some Debbie Bliss Cashmerino left over from some projects last year.  As it required No Yarn Purchase At All, it was quite a thrifty make. As my son would say, "You keep telling yourself that, Mrs T!" 
*I haven't finished this blanket yet although I am now on to the final row of the edging. I justify the lack of finish to myself, by saying it's because summer does Not yet seem to have come from the sunny land so its moment has not arrived which is possibly a rather specious excuse! 
Anyway my rosy crochet cushion is now in residence on its destined dressing table / sewing table chair. Of course I can't actually sit on it because I don't want to squash the lovely three-dimensional petal effect but you can't have everything!

Rosy cushion in situ - but not for sitting on!
The sewing basket on the table in the pic was made for me for my birthday when I was a small girl by my mother exactly forty years ago. She made it completely from scratch, including weaving the basket. It's lovely that although the fabric, (which I love), has faded a little, it is still going strong and in constant use forty years on.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Baskets And Linings

Lining my yarn baskets was such the right thing to do - they are so much more user-friendly now (or do I mean yarn-friendly?) In the past there was friction, squabbling and fighting going on all the time in these baskets as sundry protruding ends of cane did their best to trip up or entangle any unwary ball of yarn quietly trying to mind its own business. Then the yarn wanted to get its own back and would try to get a stranglehold on a bit of the basket - I tell you, it was a war zone! Not good for either basket, yarn or my patience!

When I made these I thought I would post a little tutorial of how I did them just in case anyone else has a similar war zone and wants to bring in the peacemakers. It's taken me a bit of time for which I apologise but spurred on by Liz of Carolina Knits' kind mention in her post about her lovely new knitting nook here I have finally finished putting together what I did. It's not difficult and these instructions will probably be superfluous to you skilled needlewomen out there but just in case anyone would like them, here they are.

My linings are effectively liner bags with elastic tops to hold them in place over the outer edge of the basket. I like them like this for several reasons. Firstly the pattern is simple and making them like this is less fiddly than stitching fabric directly to the basket. Secondly they are easy to remove and wash and therefore they maximise flexibility of use of the baskets. Sometimes I evacuate yarn from mine and commandeer them for transporting / serving cakes or buns for example, in which case I don't want sticky stuff all over the fabric. Baskets themselves wash well if they get a bit dusty, sticky or grubby but the cane tends to bleed a bit in water and I don't want any of that murky brown staining my pretty fabric so it's better to be able to wash fabric and basket separately.

The fabric I used on this occasion was what's in the two pics below. It's a cotton fabric in a good weight and the prints are Japanese Echino ones. I bought it quite a while ago just because it was so lovely but I only bought a fairly small amount of each as it was quite expensive so there wasn't enough to make a skirt or dress or anything. The prints are quite big and I did worry about cutting into them especially the second as you don't get to see the full effect of the pattern but in the end I'm pleased I've used them rather than leaving them unused and buying something else. And there's a bit left over for another day. Use whatever your heart fancies / whatever you have in stock in your stash. I wouldn't use anything too thick or slippery though or you will have trouble with the gathering. A craft weight cotton is ideal.

What you need:
A basket obviously! I was given both of the ones I covered recently as presents that originally contained Christmas hamper-style goodies. They are rectangular with quite deep sides that lean outwards so that the open top of the basket is a bigger rectangle than the base. 
1 yard / 1 metre of fabric, give or take, depending on the size of your baskets. This was more then enough for mine which are both about 13" long at the base (15" long at the top), by 10" wide and 5" deep.
Matching thread.
Elastic -  width not too critical but nothing too wide and not thread elastic - this is too flimsy. About 1/3" - 1/2" wide. Length will depend on the size of your basket. I used about 35" for mine which have a perimeter of c 52"

What you do.

First you need to empty your basket and measure the base inside and the depth of the sides as well as the circumference of the outer perimeter of the basket at its widest point (on mine this was the perimeter measured at the top edge). Make a note of the precise dimensions.

Now you need to draw out your pattern. Assuming your basket is rectangular*, draw out in pencil a rectangle for the base to the exact base dimensions you noted when you measured. Add on 5/8" seam allowance all round and draw these lines in a felt pen or something else bold so that you know these are your cutting lines. I am probably stating the obvious here but I cannot tell you how many times I have drawn out a pattern and failed to remember to add on the seam allowance before cutting; so to avoid any of those potentially expensive and heart-stopping cutting mistakes I am erring on the side of too much detail rather than too little. Just in case!

You now need to make the pattern for the sides. Take your measurement of the depth of the sides and add on another 4" at the top and 5/8" at the bottom. This will give you the height of the rectangular strip you are going to need. To calculate the length, take your measurement of the circumference of the basket and add on half as much again. You need more length than you would think because of the gathering which takes up quite a bit of fabric and can look stingy if you use too little. Having said that you could easily lose a few inches without disaster if you are short of fabric or if you want a less full look.

Draw out the long shallow rectangular shape that your measurements will give you. You may need to tape some paper together to get it all on one piece. I use newspaper taped together with sticky tape as required.

Cut out the pattern pieces.

Choose your fabric and pin the pattern to the fabric and cut out.

You may find you want to piece together two, or even more, pieces of fabric to make up the strip that will make the sides depending on the dimensions of the fabric you've got. That's fine; pin and machine stitch together as many pieces as you need and press the seams flat. Check that you haven't short changed yourself by making sure that any pieced together panel is the full size of the pattern piece you drew out.

Take the side panel, whether made of one piece of fabric or several and with right sides together, stitch the short ends together. Press the seam flat. You now have a continuous loop of fabric. 

Now press under a 1" turning all along one of the long edges of the loop. Open this turning out gently and press along the edge another 1/4" turning. Fold the first turning you made back again and press the first fold, now with the 1/4" turning along its raw edge neatly tucked inside, again in place. This will make the channel for the elastic to go round the top of the basket and hold your lining secure. Stitch close to the pressed edge all the way round leaving a gap by the seam allowance so that you can insert the elastic in due course.
Stitching close to the pressed edge of the turnover for the channel for the elastic
along the long top edge of the side panel.
Now you need to create the gathers. I do this with a long stitch on my machine but you can do it by hand if you prefer. With either method you want to stitch gathering stitches 1/2" in from the raw edge all along the remaining raw long edge of the side panel. If you use a long stitch on the machine you will find that the fabric begins to pucker into gathers as you sew, starting the process that you will finish off by hand. 
Long machine stitches that are already beginning to pucker the fabric into gathers as you sew.
Pull gently on one thread at each end of the seam and ease the gathers that appear along as evenly as you can. Don't pull too hard because you don't want to break the thread. 
Here you can see I am pulling on the thread that is taut across the centre of the pic to make the gathers more concentrated.
What you want to do is gather up enough slack in the fabric to make the loop fit the circumference of the rectangular base panel. You will probably need to check and adjust as you go. Once it's more or less the right length, pin the perimeter of the base panel to the gathered edge of the loop, right sides together, adjusting to fit by tightening or loosening the gathers as you go. 
Gathers drawn up and the side panel pinned to the base.
If you turn the lining out so that you can see the right side, this is what it should look like at this point: 

I am not a great baster, generally being in too much of a hurry to bother with it but there are times when basting is Not An Optional Extra. This is one of them! Baste where you have pinned, with stitches that are not too big, along the line of the gathering stitches. If you omit this vital step it will all go horribly wrong when you come to machine stitch the two pieces together because the gathers don't necessarily stay where they are pinned without the extra anchorage of basting stitches. 
Gathers basted securely in position and ready for machine stitching.
Machine stitch 5/8" in from the edge all round the edge of the base rectangle. I stitch with the gathers topmost so that I can keep an eye on them and make sure they don't get caught up or in case anything else peculiar happens to them!
Machine stitching 5/8" in from the edge just inside the basting stitches.
OK now the bottom of the lining is complete.

You are on the home straight now! Cut a piece of elastic about 15" shorter than the circumference of the top of the basket. Attach the elastic to a large safety pin and begin to thread through the top channel of the lining. Before You Go Too Far, pin the other end of the elastic to just below the opening so that it doesn't disappear up the beginning of the channel while you are busy threading the other end!
Elastic secured with a pin one end while the other makes its way along the channel attached to a large safety pin.
Work the safety pin along the channel with the elastic and even out the puckering as you go. Once you reach the end, keep tight hold of both ends and secure them together with the safety pin. (Don't use an ordinary  pin, it comes adrift and you have to re-thread the elastic all over again!) Try the lining for fit and tighten the elastic by making more of an overlap of the two ends if you feel it needs it.

Once you are happy with the level of tightness, pull through a good bit of elastic through the opening to give yourself room to manouvre and stitch the two overlapping ends of elastic together with a zig zag machine stitch as in the pic. 
Stitching the elastic overlap together with a zig zag machine stitch.
My sewing machine is a bit elderly and not the most sophisticated lady on the block and she cuts up a bit rough about stitching elastic together so I help her along by putting a small strip of fabric under the elastic as I zig zag so that she doesn't get herself in a twist but if you've got a good modern machine you shouldn't need to do this.

Elastic overlap stitched together with zig zag machine stitch. You can just see the little strip of fabric I put underneath the elastic as I sewed the ends together to avoid mangling. 
Once the two ends of elastic are stitched together, stretch the top to ping the elastic back inside the channel and machine stitch across the opening to make a neat finish. 
Stitching across the opening in the elastic channel.
And voilĂ ! 

One lining all ready to go in as peace-maker and peace-keeper between basket and yarn!

* If your basket is oval or round, you can use exactly the same principle as for a rectangular basket. The only difference is in the drawing out of the base pattern piece which will obviously need to be whatever the curved shape of the base is. Make an accurate template shape to fit the base of the inside of your basket and draw this out again with your seam allowance added on all round. Then proceed as above. Simple!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Pink June Sweetness

It's nearly midsummer and despite the lack of consistent midsummer sun in this part of the world, the last week has been full of summery sweetness, much of it pink, to my delight!

Strawberries grown on the farm down the road ...

... waiting to be eaten just as they are and also to be bubbled up with sugar this morning to make jam.

Raspberries also from the farm down the road, eaten just as they are, warm out of the punnet - no adornments or accompaniments - just too luscious to make it to the preserving pan.

Two of my favourite, intensely scented midsummer roses, in full bloom in the garden - Louise Odier ...

... and Rosa Mundi.

This enchanting pink pin cushion made for me by my hooky friend, Helen, of Belmont Yarns - isn't it gorgeous? Of course it can only have colour coded pins stuck in it and not so many that the beautiful little bird is obscured either! White, pale green and pale blue pins only! I have parked all the un-matching yellow, red, black and dark blue ones elsewhere! 

A little bit of pink summery stripy hooky.

Pink June Sweetness in all its glory! 

Happy Midsummer-tide everyone!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

African Flowers

It was Laura of My House In Africa who got me thinking about making crochet hexagons in her recent post here. I'd not ever tried crocheting hexagons before and her clear instructions and helpful diagrams made me want to give them a go. I had a little search around on good old "Google Image" and found that the world of crochet hexagons stretches far and wide. In particular my fancy was taken by this, the so-called "Mamy Bag", made out of crocheted African Flower Hexagons joined together. The planned crocheted bag that I had in mind a while back, but had put on one side temporarily while other things took priority, sang her little siren song again in my head and despite my other projects on the go, I was hooked.

The pattern for this bag seems to have originated on Cecile Franconie's blog Facile Cecile but the link which I found on Ravelry no longer seems to take you to the pattern. Not to be daunted, I managed to track down instructions for making the African Flower hexagons here on Heidi Bears blog. The pattern for the African Flower hexagons was first published in a South African magazine, Sarie, in Afrikaans but fortunately in her version Heidi has written instructions in English as well as Afrikaans and Spanish or my idea might have got no further. I have only the merest smattering of Spanish and about two words of Afrikaans. Neither of which would have got me far with deciphering a crochet pattern!

The African Flower hexagon is enchanting and actually very simple once you've got the hang of it. Just as well, as for the bag you need nearly fifty of them! I found for the first few hexagons, I needed to pore over the pattern carefully but once I had made a handful, I had it committed to memory and crocheted hexagons began appearing at every odd spare moment that presented itself. I wanted to replicate the intense colours that in my mind's eye I associate with African blooms. I have never been to Africa proper - only to Egypt which is rather different from the rest of the continent -  so my impression may be slightly awry but my perception is of gloriously vivid, gaudy colours so bright they almost dazzle. Intense pinks and hot reds arrayed with flaming oranges and lush greens against skies and seas bluer and brighter than almost anywhere else in the world.

Do any of you know Gerald Durrell's book, "The Overloaded Ark"? In it, he very beautifully describes arriving on his first visit to Africa on a ship from England in the early 1950s. Here's a bit of his description:

"The ship nosed its way through the morning mist, across a sea as smooth as milk. A faint and exciting smell came to us from the invisible shore, the smell of flowers, damp vegetation, palm oil, and a thousand other intoxicating scents drawn up from the earth by the rising sun, a pale, moist-looking nimbus of light seen dimly through the mists. As it rose higher and higher, the heat of its rays penetrated and loosened the hold the mist had on the land and sea. Slowly it was drawn up towards the sky in long lethargically coiling columns, and gradually the bay and the coastline came into view and gave me my first glimpse of Africa. ... The colours of this landscape, after the pale pastel shades of England, seemed over bright, almost garish, hurting the eyes with their fierce intensity. Over the islands flocks of grey parrots wheeled in strong, rapid flight and faintly their clownish screams and whistles came to us. In the glistening wake of the ship two brown kites circled in an anxious search for something edible, and out of the remaining skeins of mist being drawn up into the sky, a fishing eagle suddenly appeared, heavy and graceful, its black and white plumage shining. Over all this, the land and sea seen obscurely through the shifting, coiling mist, lay the magic smell we had noticed before, but now it was stronger, richer, intoxicating with its promise of deep forest, of lush reedy swamps and magical rivers under a canopy of trees." Once ashore he talks of travelling along a red earth road "lined with hibiscus hedges aflame with flower and copses of the yellow, feathery, pungent-smelling mimosa" and finding the town beside the bay "filled with rustling palms, hibiscus and bougainvillaea hedges glowing with flowers" and "sedate rows of canna lilies, like vivid flames on thin green candlesticks."
(From Gerald Durrell The Overloaded Ark (London: Faber, 1953) p17-18)

This heady African vividness that Gerald Durrell describes so evocatively, is what I was after so I threw aside all my preconceptions and prejudices about acrylic yarn (scratchy, hot and uncomfortable) and filled a basket at my local yarn store with the brightest most intense shades I could find. I don't know why, but acrylic yarn seems to come in a much wider range of vivid shades than most natural fibre yarns. Despite quite a full basket, this was not at all an expensive undertaking - acrylic yarn is not only vivid, it's pretty cheap! My haul, apart from one exception, only cost me c £1.50 for every fatly generous 100g ball. It is also of course easily washable which is good for bags that one wants to use. I showed no brand loyalty or consistency, but in fickle fashion, mixed Stylecraft Special Double Knitting, Woolcraft New Fashion Double Knitting and the uninspiringly named but happily inclusive of one or two colours missing from those supplied by other brands, Premier Value Double Knitting. All rubbed shoulders with one another together pell mell as well as with one beautiful and slightly more expensive ball of deep purple King Cole Smooth Double Knitting which I couldn't resist because of its colour. The only governing principle for inclusion in the basket was it had to carol with brightness. One or two yarns were slightly thicker than others but I went ahead anyway and it all worked out fine. I used thirteen colours in total and made four each of twelve different combinations so there is enough repetition in the bag to give a cohesive feel but hopefully not so much that it fails on the multi-coloured front.

And while there seems to be a dearth of written instructions about how to assemble the bag once you have your hexagons, there are pics out there, so following some examples posted on Ravelry, I joined them together to make a single piece of fabric like this:

Which then became this:

I joined the hexagons together by crocheting slip stitch seams into the back loops only of the joining sides and found to my delight that once I had my single piece of fabric, the layout folded up and fitted together very neatly like a jigsaw, whereupon I crocheted the sides together in the same way as I had joined the individual hexagons. Much easier than I had thought it would be.

Handles were a pondering point - D-shaped wooden or plastic ones or crocheted straps? In the end I went for stripy crocheted straps (250 chains long and four stripes of single (US) / double (UK) crochet for each one) because it wasn't that easy to find alternatives in the right size and I wanted the bag to work as a shoulder bag anyway. I just folded over the top three hexagons of the bag on each side and stitched them down inside, over the straps, to encase them. A little stiffening was supplied by applying to the model railway construction department in the household for two pieces of stiff "plasticard" about nine inches long and an inch wide each, which I inserted alongside the straps so that the top kept a nice even edge. On its own, the folded-over crocheted edge went a bit wibblywobbly when you hung the bag by the straps.

There was then just the little matter of sewing in all the ends of which there were an awful lot, despite crocheting in all the ends from the colour changes as I made the hexagons, but it was worth it as the inside is now really neat and is not shouting for a lining or anything.

The end result is a good capacious size - just right for all the normal stuff of handbags and a book and a mini flask of tea and with spare capacity for a hook and a ball of yarn (or two!) What more could a girl ask for?! It is also, as you can see, extremely bright even on a dull day like today! Possibly it's a teensy bit too bright but bearing in mind the very dull, grey and damp summer we are currently having in the UK, I find it's redressing the balance a bit and is correspondingly mood-lifting!

Since taking these pics earlier this afternoon, it is now raining again. 

So any hope of using the new bag to pack up a little picnic will have to be shelved for today. I am hoping however that it is not too much to ask for that there will be at least one day before the end of the summer when the wind and the rain will stop, the miserable grey clouds will scud away and the sun shine hotly and long enough to try it out as an African Flower picnic bag. We'll see! But don't hold your breath, anyone!

Hope you have a bright weekend!
(in synchrony with or despite the weather, depending on where in the world you are!)

Monday, 11 June 2012

And is there honey still for tea?

Yes, there is!

Albeit the honey I am about to talk about, is located nearer to the university city of Oxford than that of Cambridge as referred to in Rupert Brooke's poem.

The first batch of honey from the hive we host in our garden was ready for collection over the weekend and boy, is it delicious! I feel a bit of a fraud hosting a hive rather than actually doing the bee-keeping myself but it seems to work well in practice. The bee-keeper doubles up as the owner of the village shop and was looking for people willing to give a home to a hive or two around the village and I thought, well, why not? Martin gets another hive in a garden with plenty of bee-friendly blossom and flowers and most of the honey either for himself or to sell in the shop. We get a cut of the honey and the enjoyment of watching the bees and production close-up without having the responsibility of having to do the trickier and more hazardous stuff. And it's green to support bees who are the very lynch pin of our whole agricultural and eco-system.

Our bees are, apparently, quite a docile variety and happily do their own thing while we do ours and in just two months, despite the cold and the rain, have produced a wonderful first batch of honey. Martin arrived early yesterday with a "clearing board" which allows the bees to exit from the combs but not return to them and then at lunchtime he returned to remove nine heavy frames loaded with honey.
Martin clad in bee-proof suit and rubber gloves in the process of removing the frames from the hive.
All-over protection is a must as, understandably,
 the bees do not like having their honey removed and get quite belligerent.
Our nine filled frames. Thank you, bees!
Just the smell of the filled frames was extraordinary - deep, flowery, and all-pervasive.

He and I then departed for his kitchen to uncap the combs still on the frames with what looked like a nit comb. (Sorry, but as you can see it did resemble one!)

Uncapping the honeycomb on the frames with the "nit comb".
Then we carefully inserted them, one by one, into a simple but effective centrifuge, shaped something like the hot water tank in my airing cupboard. A few minutes spinning and a viscous golden curtain struck the sides of the tank and began to gather in a deepening tawny pool at the bottom. The tap at the base of the tank was released and an amber stream ran thickly, swiftly and silently into a double sieve handily waiting for the purpose and into a large plastic tub. I have some pics but not quite as many as I intended as it all got rather sticky and manoeuvring the centrifuge over the sieves and waiting tub to make sure that nothing was wasted was definitely a two-person job.

I know it sounds a bit naive but I just can't believe that those busy bees I have seen every day from my kitchen window have been making all this honey in only just over eight weeks.

According to Martin this first batch is only the first and smallest we should get this year. Another bigger one should be forthcoming in late July / early August. I can't wait!

Literally unable to wait until the strained honey had settled and the air bubbles come to the surface, which I understand is what one should do before decanting the honey into jars, I came home with seven jars of beautiful, pale golden, flowery honey. It's difficult to be sure precisely what flowers have gone into it, but our estimate is a combination of horse chestnut blossom, lilac, apple, pear and plum blossom, honeysuckle, wisteria and probably some oil seed rape from the fields on the edge of the village. Whatever the combination, it is enchantingly flowery, fragrantly aromatic and intense but not at all heavy.

The only question now is what to have it on? Homemade oat cakes or homemade white bread I think in the first instance. But neat off the spoon takes a lot of beating!

If you love honey and you've ever thought about wanting to keep bees but have felt uncertain about taking on the whole business of looking after them you might want to consider hosting a hive yourself. Many bee-keepers are keen to expand their collection of hives and wherever you live there's likely to be a bee-keeper within striking distance. Even in inner cities, hives are popping up on roof tops and balconies so you don't have to be in the middle of the countryside for it to be a possibility. Of course you may be a braver soul than me and feel you want to turn into a full scale bee-keeper yourself. If you have the time and inclination, why not?

In the meantime, to revert to the last part of Rupert Brooke's long and lovely poem, "The Old Vicarage, Grantchester", in which he writes of the England he remembers and loves:

"Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
still guardians of that holy land?
The chestnuts shade in reverend dream,
the yet unacademic stream?
Is dawn a secret, shy and cold
anadyomene, silver-gold?
and sunset still a golden sea
from Haslingfield to Madingley?
And after, ere the night is born,
do hares come out about the corn?
Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
gentle and brown above the pool?
And laughs the immortal river still
under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? And Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
the lies and truths, and pain? ... oh! yet
stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?"

Sadly the elms so familiar to Rupert Brooke near Grantchester are probably long gone after the depredations of Dutch Elm Disease in the latter part of the 20th C but the English countryside is still peopled by dreaming, fragrant chestnuts; dawn still comes to it, "shy and cold"; hares still sun themselves on evening slopes; the streams and brooks are again running "sweet and cool, gentle and brown", especially after all this summer rain; Beauty is assuredly there to find and "Quiet kind"and above the "deep meadows", in which we may lie to forget the world awhile, and while the church clock's hands turn inexorably on from ten to three, English bees are busy. So that we may call across the years to the poet, as he sat writing his evocative poem in the Cafe des Westens in Berlin, a hundred years ago last month, "Yes! There is honey still for tea!"
Apologies for the blurry pic - it's not easy to pour honey off a spoon and take a photo at the same time!

These oat cakes look very plain but they are the perfect accompaniment for good honey. I devised my own recipe after finding most commercial oatcakes very disappointing and cardboardy. Here it is in case anyone wants to try it with their own favourite honey:

1 cup of oatmeal (not porridge oats). I use a mixture of coarse and medium oatmeal - about half and half
1tbsp soft brown muscovado sugar
half a tsp salt
a knob of butter or vegetable margarine - about 1 oz / 25 g ( I use an organic, very pure vegetable margarine which makes the oatcakes vegan by coincidence)
4 tbsps boiling water

Preheat the oven to at least 205 C, it needs to be really hot so if your oven is less fierce than mine you might need to crank it up to 220 C.

Mix the dry ingredients together, squashing any lumps of brown sugar as you go.

Melt the margarine or butter in the boiling water and stir into the dry ingredients to form a stiffish dough.

Turn on to a work surface and using plenty of extra oatmeal to prevent the dough sticking, roll it out thinly.

Cut into rounds and place on a lined baking sheet.

Bake for about 15 mins until the oatcakes are golden and the edges tinged a slightly darker brown. Watch them though, as they can burn if you're not careful.

Cool on a wire rack and then load them with your best honey.

Fantastic not just for afternoon tea but also for breakfast!

This recipe easily doubles or trebles - I don't think I've ever actually made it with just one cup of oatmeal. Today I made treble quantities because H is due home shortly after a day of hunger-inducing school exams and a single batch would be reduced to nothing but crumbs in minutes!

Friday, 8 June 2012

Crochet Snake In Camouflage

My sssimple ssssnake, aka Therapy Crochet for souls demoralised by complicated patterns that need repeated frogging, has reached completion! I am rather pleased with him. He was very simple to crochet, so long as one made sure one always ended up with 35 stitches at the end of each round after the initial increases, and he didn't require too much other brain power - ssimple sstripes, ssimple sstitches, ssimple sstuffing and ssimple asssembly! Here he iss!
Stripy Snake looking less "derpy" than he did!
I followed Lois Daykin's pattern in her book, "Baby Crochet" to shape the tail end and the head but simplified the pattern for the body to simple stripes of single crochet (US) / double crochet (UK) varying the colours and depths of the stripes as I felt like it, until I had a reptile of a good snake-like length. He's ended up about 1.5 m long. My only real difficulty with making him was his expression which has been through several iterations.

I've used buttons layered on top of one another but in the first attempt, where I used black buttons positioned centrally on larger white ones, H's critical verdict was that he looked "derpy". Is that how you spell "derpy"? It's not a word that often figures in my vocabulary! After establishing precisely what "derpiness" consists of - "gormless and foolish" seems to get it more or less, I was forced to concede that H was right. He did look extremely "derpy"!

Now you see me, now you don't!
I experimented a bit with the eyes and even tried painting the black buttons with a graduated white rim but I am afraid he still looked as "derpy" as before. I am not sure that the expression he has ended up with is entirely free of "derpiness", but he looks slightly less gormless than he did! Believe me, he does! H's considered view is that Stripy's permanently lolling tongue means a certain "derpiness" is inevitable and he may have something there. Anyway Stripy has triggered a great deal of hilarity and laughter among all who have encountered him and that can't be bad!

Stripy in situ prior to being snake-napped!
He was made in the same colours of Rico Creative Cotton as my Vintage Stripe blanket so he can lurk camouflaged on the bed or he can earn his keep, less camouflaged, keeping out the draught under the door. As you can see, he has a tinkly bell sewn onto the tip of his tail to warn the unwary of his approach - a gentler variation on the more vicious theme of a rattlesnake's rattle!

Despite the tinkling warning bell, Duck, my crochet mascot, does not like him and prefers him safely by the door to lurking on the bed. Rather like the Biblical Joseph, in his coat of many colours, Stripy Snake is not universally popular with his brethren! Midianite traders in the person of H came and stole him away last night, not to Egypt but to the Augean Stables that is H's room at the moment, much to Duck's delight! He'd sell Stripy into slavery for twenty shekels of silver if he could!